Veterans Day essay: Three photos tell story of service

old army photo ken hill and family

Editor’s Note: This Veteran’s Day essay was written by Ken Hill, Roper St. Francis Healthcare director of construction and safety who also is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force. 

Next to the fireplace where the morning sunlight illuminates my family room hangs three photographs – my grandpa, my dad and me.

Because my wife found these photos, I better understand their sense of duty to serve their country and protect its citizens.

Growing up, I knew my grandpa served in the British Army and fought in World War I, but he rarely spoke of it.

I knew my dad fought in World War II, was a prisoner of war, but he died when I was 17, and I was too young and too immature to ask the right questions. I wished I had more time with him.

I’ll never forget being summoned in the middle of the night in 1982 to my commander’s officer. He delivered the news of my dad’s death promptly but with compassion and immediately outlined how the Red Cross was going to get me home to be with my family.

Stateside, my uncle pulled me aside at the funeral and gave me the best compliment: “You’re just like him.” In an instant, I recognized the unique bond I shared with my dad. It’s one all veterans share, a brotherhood that spans generation, race, religion and branch of service.

Traditions are a big part of the military, and military families tend to create traditions of their own. Constantly relocating can make you feel disconnected, but traditions can create stability.

My wife decided to start a tradition of giving me a gift every Veteran’s Day, and they were often small tokens — always creative and rich in meaning. In 1989, she gave me the framed set of pictures of my grandpa, my dad and me — each at age 23, each in military dress.

Sometimes, I tear up looking at them. These photos show us as peers, as veterans. It’s an honor to be related to these men, and it’s humbling to be part of their legacy of service.

My grandpa and my dad set an example.

I followed.


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